What We Learned Self-Publishing HYPERGROWTH

For years, ebooks were the gold standard when it came to generating leads.

Marketing teams would write a couple thousand words (or even a few hundred words), perform some formatting magic, and then somehow end up with a 50-page PDF document.

Next, they’d hide that PDF document behind a lead capture form.

Want to download our new ebook? Just enter your name, email address, phone number, company name, company location, mother’s maiden name, blood type, social security number…

(OK maybe not those last few, but you get the idea.)

The traditional ebook experience is awful.

So when Dave Gerhardt — Drift’s director of marketing — brought up the idea of having our CEO David Cancel write an ebook, I wasn’t really feeling it.

I didn’t want to help create another PDF that would get stuck behind another form on another landing page.

But then Dave explained it to me like this:

“Let’s not make another ebook, let’s make an actual book — a book that we’ll share with everyone in the community for free. No forms.”

A few months after that conversation, we launched HYPERGROWTH: How the Customer-Driven Model Is Revolutionizing the Way Businesses Build Products, Teams, & Brands.

Early Results

In the first month after launching HYPERGROWTH, we recorded:

Those were some early quantitative results. Now here are some early qualitative results, starting with my personal favorite:

But the most significant result so far has come in the form of a Slack message from our Customer Success manager Isabella. (In the message, she’s referencing someone who had just reached out to her asking for some tips for using Drift.)

When I saw this message, I thought to myself: “Hot dang, we’re onto something here.”

I realized that Dave was right: Ebooks can still be effective … provided you use them the right way.

So, what’s the difference between the traditional approach to ebooks and how we did things?

Keep reading for the full breakdown.

The Modern Marketer’s Guide to Launching a Book

1) Say no to forms.

If you’ve been part of the Drift community for a while now, you’re well aware of how we feel about gating content. (And if you’re new to the Drift community, here’s the story of why we decided to get rid of all our lead forms and make content free.)

The bottom line is that forms create a terrible user experience for all parties involved.

As a content consumer and possibly a potential customer, a form is a barrier to the knowledge you’re seeking.

There you are, cruising along the highway of knowledge, when BAM: stop sign. That’s what a form is like.

Meanwhile, as a marketer, you’re (presumably) spending time and energy creating the content that’s going behind that form. But if what you have to say is truly valuable and could help people in some way, why are you making it less accessible?

From a branding perspective, going form-free makes the most sense if you want to convey that you’re a trustworthy company that’s committed to being a resource for people (vs. being a company that’s only focused on capturing leads).

Don’t think people will notice the difference? Just ask Timi:

2) Offer mobile-optimized formats (EPUB & MOBI).

PDFs are so 2007.

These days, more and more people are opting to consume content on their smartphones, tablets, and e-readers.

If you’ve ever looked at a PDF document on one of those devices, you know that the experience is absolute garage. That’s why you need to create EPUB and MOBI versions of your book in addition to the traditional PDF.

EPUB and MOBI are both ebook file formats that are optimized for mobile devices. (EPUB is managed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, MOBI is owned by Amazon.)

The way I think about it: You want to have the EPUB format for your smartphone and tablet readers, and you want to have the MOBI format for your Kindle readers.

Of the 3,000+ downloads we had in the first month after launching HYPERGROWTH, nearly one-third were EPUB/MOBI downloads.

Translation: they’re definitely worth it.

That being said, the process of converting your book into the EPUB and MOBI formats can be a bit tedious … especially if you want to take some extra steps to bring your book’s quality to the next level, which you definitely do (:

Bearing that in mind, here’s my step-by-step guide to publishing your book in the EPUB and MOBI formats.

A) Copy/paste the text of your book into a fresh Google Doc. (Make sure to add a title page at the beginning if you don’t have one already.)

B) Format your book.

  • Add page breaks (Insert > Page break) between chapters.
  • Use the “Title” and “Subtitle” paragraph styles for your chapter titles and chapter subtitles.
  • Add bookmarks (Insert > Bookmark) to the beginnings of each chapter and link to them from your table of contents. Here’s more info from Google on how you set those up if you can’t figure it out.

C) Go to File > Download as EPUB Publication (.epub) and save the EPUB file.

At this point you might be tempted to think, “I’m finished! That was easy.” But here’s the deal: When you publish an EPUB file through Google Docs (like I did), you don’t get any of the meta data — that precious, precious meta data — that the EPUB and MOBI formats support.

Specifically, at this stage, your EPUB file would still be missing title and author information, as well as a cover image — all of which can be surfaced by different reading apps/devices. By adding that meta data, you can take the quality of your mobile-optimized publications up a few notches.

But fair warning: the process is a little funky.

D) Download a free EPUB editor (like Calibre), open your EPUB file, add meta data.

The steps will obviously vary depending on the specific tool you’re using, but with Calibre there’s a meta data menu where you can easily update author and title info and upload a cover image.

After updating and saving the meta data, you can export/publish your book as a new EPUB file.

E) The EPUB version is ready! To create your MOBI version, open the EPUB file in Kindle Previewer

Don’t have Amazon’s Kindle Previewer? Don’t worry, it’s free. You can download it here. Once you’ve got Kindle Previewer installed, use it to open your EPUB file. Then, like magic, Previewer will automatically create a MOBI version of your book based off of that EPUB file. That means the meta data and the cover image you added will automatically get pulled into the MOBI file.

Without going through those extra steps of updating the meta data, your cover image and title/author info wouldn’t appear in certain situations (e.g. the Kindle Library).

3) Get some hardcover versions printed to give out as gifts/swag.

We used the service Blurb for this.

So far we’ve only ordered a few test copies to make sure everything looks perfect. Our next step is to do a bulk order.

But even the test orders have helped us get some buzz. Check out this tweet our CEO (a.k.a. the author of HYPERGROWTH) sent out:

And check out who replied: entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries.

To be fair, our objective with ordering the hardcover versions wasn’t to attract the attention of best-selling business authors (that was just a bonus). The real goal is to have these on-hand to give out to office visitors, customers, and other members of the Drift community.

4) Sell your book on Amazon.

Yes, I get how counterintuitive this seems: Make it a priority to give your book away for free … then sell it.

But here’s how we think about it: Amazon is another distribution channel. 

Everybody who knows us — our customers, our blog readers, our newsletter subscribers — can easily download HYPERGROWTH for free. (Go ahead, download it, I dare you.)

By putting it on Amazon, we’re trying to spread HYPERGROWTH out beyond our current sphere of influence. We’re trying to make it available to as many people as possible — people like Bill Aulet, the head of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT:

In order to start selling your book on Amazon / in the Kindle Store, you’ll need to get setup with Kindle Direct Publishing. Be prepared to enter a bunch of tax info.

Once the administrative stuff is out of the way, you can start setting up your listing, which includes writing a description, selecting categories, and adding keywords. FYI: this Kindle SEO guide for self-publishers from Tom Morkes was my go-to resource at this stage.

Here are some of the best practices I followed when setting up the listing for HYPERGROWTH:

Description

  • Have a teaser/concise opener at the top of your description that doesn’t get cut off by the “read more” separator.

  • Use the rest of your description for:
    1. explaining what readers will learn (including a bulleted list of what’s inside)
    2. explaining who the book is for for
    3. adding one final CTA or some special content (like a quote or review)

Categories

On the backend of Amazon you can select two categories that you want to target. (Note: Books can still rank for other categories, this just sends a signal to Amazon that says, “Hey, this category describes my book the best.”)

My first instinct was to go broad, e.g. “Management,” “Product,” — turns out that was the absolute wrong approach.

The right approach: Find books you want to be compared to and target the niche categories they’re ranking for. 

With that in mind, I ended up setting the categories for HYPERGROWTH as “Customer Relations” and “Organizational Behavior.”

Top books in Customer Relations

  • The Power of Why
  • The Value Driven Business
  • The Membership Economy
  • The Challenger Sale
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma

Top books in Organizational Behavior

  • The Power of Habit
  • Start With Why
  • Sway
  • Hustle
  • The Culture Code

I was skeptical at first that setting these categories would have any real effect on our listing…

Then last week HYPERGROWTH became the number 7 best-seller in Amazon’s “Customer Relations” category.

(Turns out categories can be pretty powerful.)

Keywords

In addition to setting categories, you can also set keywords for your book. The best practices I uncovered were mostly standard SEO/keyword optimization tips, BUT there was one secret:

Always take the keywords you’re considering and start typing them into an Amazon search to see what auto-populates. (I used that method to come up with our list.)

Submitting Your Book for Approval

The good news here: If you’ve already gone through the trouble of converting your book into the MOBI format, you’re golden. Just upload your MOBI file where it says “Upload ebook manuscript,” re-upload your cover image where it says “Upload your cover file,” and then click “Launch Previewer” to make sure there are no formatting issues.

Next, set a price for your book, submit it, and wait for Amazon to approve it (note: this can take up to 36 hours).

Selling a Paperback Version

Once the Kindle version of our book was approved, we followed a similar process to start selling a paperback version alongside it.

Pro tip: Amazon lets you choose from several different size options for the paperback version. So if you’ve already gotten a hardcover version printed, choose the same size/dimensions for the paperback version to save yourself some trouble. (I was able to use the same PDF I designed for the hardcover version of HYPERGROWTH for the paperback version — huge time-saver.)

Next Steps on the Amazon front

Now that we have the book for sale on Amazon, we’re focused on the following:

So really, this is only just the beginning.

And as someone who’s helped create and launch dozens upon dozens of ebooks for marketing teams over the past several years, let me tell you: this process felt totally different.

When you’re not chained to a lead generation goal, everything shifts. Launching the book suddenly becomes an exercise in branding — it’s about spreading your company’s values and knowledge vs. trying to hit some arbitrary number.

Hopefully this post has helped you re-think the role books can play in marketing.

And now that you have the new playbook, what are you waiting for? Go write and self-publish your masterpiece.

(Send us a copy when it’s done?)

Click here to learn how Drift can help your sales team convert more leads and close more deals.

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